Written by Kerryn Caulfield, Executive Director of Composites Australia Inc.
Co-founding Directors, John Hollo and Ross Kaigg formed the company in 1996 in a marketplace that was dominated by international firms including Gerber and Lectra, who had decades of experience and global market penetration. From the beginning, the partners realised that their point of difference would come from the development of technologies that require very low maintenance and eliminated high operational costs.
“The expensive maintenance contracts whereby machinery suppliers rely on service, spare parts and maintenance for post commission income is less of an option for us down under” says co-founder John Hollo. “We build machines to last so that our customers are self-sufficient. Our focus has always been on next generation technologies for new and emerging markets.”
That approach has proven to be a winner and now twenty two years later, Pathfinder has customers around the world with sales/support offices and distributorships in 13 countries.
The company’s customer list and product range continues to expand and diversify and now includes some of the world’s most advanced manufacturing firms in aerospace, automotive, rail, marine and defence.
According to John, a major factor in Pathfinders’ continued success is “that manufacturers in all sectors are under pressure to find technology solutions to optimise material usage and lower reliance on skilled labour”. To that end, the company has developed 16 multi-ply variants and 12 single ply models which can be optioned up to nearly 300 configurations to suit very specific end applications.
Wayne Walker, Operations Manager for Pathfinder maintains that “Carbon fibre, fibreglass, and Kevlar® fibres are harsh on traditional cutting equipment. Minimising fibreglass dust and contamination, while achieving a finished piece free of distortion, burring, or the harsh damaged edges by investing in advanced cutting equipment is a cost effective solution.”
The full power of automated cutting systems are realised through nesting and kitting functions resident in the software that drives the cutters. Computerised nesting of shapes, rather than marking out templates by hand which can consume days, eliminates error and imprecision. Ply placement or fibre direction is also considered within the nest to ensure accurate fibre orientation and integrity.
Pathfinder also manufactures a range of spreading; roll feeding and conveyorised tables that are synchronised to the cutting machine. This enables markers of virtually unlimited length to be processed while requiring a very small footprint on the factory floor. All roll feeding devices and conveyor tables are fitted with unwind/ rewind control which dramatically simplifies roll handling. Considering OH&S standards, the company has a range of semi-automatic and fully-automatic spreaders that enable a single operator to handle rolls weighing up to 120kg and deliver aligned, tension free material to the cutting machine.
For a company based in Melbourne, the tyranny of distance is a limiting factor when servicing machines in overseas markets. Pathfinder’s remote monitoring service maximises machine uptime and productivity, by enabling service and support professionals based in Tullamarine to diagnose and fix issues in real time via a secure internet connection to manufacturers all over the world.
Wayne maintains that “Innovative reliable cutting room technology, with fewer moving parts and thus less-frequent replacement of worn parts, composite manufacturers can profitably compete with lightweight metals process competitors.”
This article first appeared in: Connection Magazine Issue 50: July, 2019